I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I wish I didn't work so hard.
I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
These were the five most common regrets that palliative care nurse Bonnie Ware heard from people she interviewed in the last weeks of their lives. Her heartrending collection of deathbed honesty - a blog post widely shared online - is a reminder that we will all die regretting some of what has been.
And we are, all of us, living with regrets today - whether they are actions and choices or whole life patterns and attitudes. Regret rankles inside us and natters at us, convicting us of old wrongs so that they fill us with guilt afresh.
Many of us have likely thought this impossible thought: I wish that I could go back and do it over again.
This is the very wish granted to Erica Strange, the protagonist of "Being Erica," a series which opens its fourth season tonight on Canada's CBC network.
Erica (Erin Karpluk) is a thirtysomething city dweller trapped in a job she hates and failing at love when she meets Dr. Tom, a therapist able to send her back in time to relive, and revise, her most regretted moments. Her re-dos are diverse, ranging from acts of youthful recklessness to vocational decisions to actions related to her teenage brother’s tragic, accidental death.
"Being Erica" is not a perfect show. Some, for example, may find Erica’s what-I-learned voiceovers sentimental or cringe at the show’s occasionally graphic sexual content. Even so, I believe the show almost perfectly captures the pitch of regret that plays on inside us all - including we who proclaim “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”
So how are we to live as Christians with our mistakes and lost opportunities? How can we address our regrets in ways that are healthy, faithful and redemptive?
Obviously Erica’s magical opportunity is not an option. I do think, however, that the show models an attitude toward regret to be learned from. As one fan of the show astutely notes, for Erica, "changing the regret often makes marginal impact on Erica’s life historically - but rather (the show) is about the personal growth Erica makes as a result of examining her life through her regrets.”
This opportunity for growth is here for us, too. Our pasts may not be changeable but we, by God’s mercy, are. With brave and repentant hearts we can parse out the motivations behind our perceived mistakes.
Most of Erica’s regrets, for example, are outgrowths of one or two forces: fear or selfishness. These forces push her to shirk confrontation (with those who deserve hard truths) and nudge her toward insecurity over her own abilities.
We, too, often model Erica’s behavior, letting vanity and anxiety drive us. I know I do. And yet, the refrain to “fear not” resounds throughout Scripture. We are constantly urged against pride , to “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility.”
We can then recognize many of our regrets for what they are: moments that grieve our Father because we have let our wishes and worries rule over His will. To own up to this is to admit that we have not loved as we ought - that we have done harm.
However, there is also harm in thinking our futures are doomed by our past failings. Over and over, Erica learns that although goodness has been lost, new and different goodness can rise in its place. This we must also remember and be reminded of, again and again.
In every "Being Erica" episode, her time-bending therapist recites to her quotes of wisdom by famous figures, from Shakespeare to Leonard Cohen to Yoda. Perhaps such a mentor would offer those mired in regret these words, said by the protagonist of C.S. Lewis’ famous space trilogy: “Whatever you do, He will make good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed Him."
May that be the prayer of the regretful, from first to final breath: make good of it, God. Make good of us. And show us how even the moments that most grieve us can be redeemed.
(Photo courtesy of CBC.)